A Swing and a miss
Changing the number of people on City Council isn't as simple as it may have seemed.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell proposed reducing the size of the council from 11 members to nine by eliminating two of its at large seats. During Tuesday's City Council meeting he said the concept was meant to save the city about $50,000 a year between stipends and health insurance.
It turns out that it's a nonstarter.
City Attorney Richard M. Dohoney said it would require a lengthy combination of city and state reviews and approvals, including two citywide votes.
"I swung and missed," Connell said before requesting the idea be placed on file.
During public comments, former City Councilor Barry Clairmont suggested a simpler way to cut costs. He said council members could forfeit their city-sponsored health insurance. He said the result would be about a $200,000 savings.
Alternatively, Clairmont suggested the council align its stipend with School Committee members to save $44,000.
Currently council members earn $8,000 annually; $10,000 for council president. Committee members take home $2,000 each year.
Capitol may sparkle anew
At night, the art deco marquee for the former Capitol Theatre reads "CAP."
Now home to the city's Ralph J. Froio Senior Center, the building's marquee is missing about half of its lights and its condition is deteriorating.
The City Council asked Mayor Linda M. Tyer to make room in her capital budget for what could be a $142,000 expense. While the vote was unanimous in favor of the move, councilors spent about 30 minutes discussing its pros and cons.
Some councilors pointed to its failing condition as a possible safety hazard for the many seniors who use the site, its importance to the appearance of North Street, and the history of the former theater. Other councilors voiced concern about the possible use some Community Development Block Grant money for restoration work.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli has asked $50,000 from CDBG money go toward the project, and suggested the rest be included in the city's upcoming capital budget.
"It's a dangerous situation. It is not just cosmetic issue. It is a safety issue. There are countless numbers of seniors who go in there every single day," Simonelli said.
Although he ultimately voted in favor of the move, at large Councilor Peter White pointed out the city will need to make tough choices to balance its fiscal 2018 budget.
"If we are looking at everything, I think this should be scrutinized," he said. "Do we need it? Or do we want this?"
A park for the pooch?
The Parks Commission is slated to vote on a location for the proposed park at its meeting Tuesday. A 1- to 2-acre section of Burbank Park, near the water tower, has been identified as a likely location by the Dog Park Study Group.
If a site is approved by the commission, the city will apply for park design and construction grants from the Stanton Foundation, said James McGrath, who manages the city's parks.
The foundation has provided grants to 25 dog parks across the state including one in West Springfield.
Up to $25,000 is available for design work, and construction grants, which require a 5 percent match by the city, can be as much as $225,000, according to the foundation's website.
ShotSpotter funds sought
Up and running about two weeks, ShotSpotter is an acoustic surveillance system designed to detect gunshots in real time and relay the information to police.
Approved by City Council in December, the city has a three-year, $600,000 contract for the technology. Mayor Linda M. Tyer told the council the bill would be paid for without the use of city funds.
State Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, has asked for $100,000 in the state's fiscal 2018 budget on the city's behalf. She said the money would be an earmark from the Office of Public Safety.
The city has commitments for $310,000 from area businesses.
Berkshire Health Systems was the first to support ShotSpotter's use. It donated half of the money needed to pay for the contract with the California-based company. The City Council accepted a $5,000 grant from Greylock Federal Credit Union for ShotSpotter on Tuesday. And Lee Bank has also pledged $5,000.
The system went live late last month and has alerted police to at least two gun fire incidents since then.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.